3 Tips to Building Math Confidence in Your Child

No single subject seems to induce as much fear in school children as mathematics can. I loved math in elementary school but by eight grade's accelerated algebra 1, I dreaded the class, the homework, and the tears and frustration that became an almost nightly-ritual.
07/07/2016 06:34 pm ET Updated Jul 08, 2017

No single subject seems to induce as much fear in school children as mathematics can. I loved math in elementary school but by eight grade's accelerated algebra 1, I dreaded the class, the homework, and the tears and frustration that became an almost nightly-ritual. And I've watched in empathy as my stepdaughter has had the same experiences.

Danica McKellar, actress, author, mathematician and education advocate, who wrote Math Doesn't Suck, Kiss My Math, Hot X: Algebra Exposed and Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape said, "My main concern with the condition of mathematics in high school is that there's a lot of fear involved! Math is not, generally speaking, presented in a fun way. The concepts, as I see them, are fun, and that's the way I'd like to convey them myself."

Founder of New York City's Eureka Math Tutors Michael Priyev agrees. "Math has the power to strike fear into the hearts of children and adults alike," he told HuffPo in an interview. Because of this, he offers tips to parents on how to help their children build math confidence.

Build or Reinforce Foundations
First, students who have problems in "later elementary school and beyond are often missing vital foundation elements," Priyev said. The issue could be a comprehension of math vocabulary (quotients, divisor, etc.) or of math concepts such as combining, taking away, and changing numbers.

Mallory Silvestri, a teacher at Austintown Fitch High School in Ohio, said, "A lack of math mastery doesn't just affect math. It has an effect on everyday life skills. I've seen it impact on telling time, counting money, and in science. If a student can't calculate a basic equation, they will never be able to balance chemical equations or find percentages."

The National Education Association encourages parents that math is everywhere so foundations can be taught (or problem areas caught) by real life math examples, such as children figure out if it is possible for a football team to score 22 points, and in how many ways can they do it? Or by figuring out based on miles per hour and distance to school, how long it will take parent and child to drive to school.

Establish Math's Flexibility
The second area, according to Priyev, where students may need to build confidence in math is includes math's flexibility, which may kids don't see. "Those who excel in math," Priyev said, "know that 6+9=15, but that the same result can be achieved by using friendlier numbers, such as 10+5."

Parents can teach fluidity and fluency in math by playing games with numbers with their children. The National Education Association said that in math classrooms "you are likely to see your child solving real problems" such as "figure out how many apples they need for a class party. Determined the cost to buy those apples. Compare how much money they have in the class kitty."

Priyev added that any game that requires counting, strategy, combining, separating, categorizing, or problem-solving will increase mathematical flexibility, creativity, and "real-world preparedness."

Make Math an Everyday Adventure
And the third tip to build math confidence utilizes the first two tips by making math an everyday adventure. Many children approach math and math homework with a 'let's get it over with attitude." I know I did and my stepdaughter certainly does too. By pointing out the math in every day life: miles per hour, distances, counting money and making change, determining weight and height, using cups and measurements for cooking or even dishing out the dog's or cat's food, takes away some fear of math, empowers children in their mathematical abilities and gives them courage.

Just like reading skills improve by reading daily, math skills improve the same way. Silvestri said, "Repetition is the only way to build basic skills and to gave the confidence kids need." Parents can assist in this journey by making math fun.